Improvising On Scales And Modes

OK well there are two questions here that I get asked alot:

1.) How can I improvise on scales/modes?

The best way to simply improvise is to get a Drum Machine, or something that keeps a beat, like a metronome. As you practice, you won’t e dependant on a drummer, or soeone who will have to keep the beat for you.

So in essence, the trick to improvising is “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, then you’ll keep stuck in that same rut you keep getting in.”

OK so here it goes: To work on improvising, simply play different genres of music. I’ve realized that when people begin to hit their ‘peak’ or a ‘writer’s block’ its simply because their stuck inside a box.

So if you play Guitar, then start playing Piano. If your in a folk band, then start taking up Death Metal. If all your songs are in the Key of A, then write one in the Key of C# minor.

Most beginner players usually are stuck on the Pentatonic Scale or another scale spreading over 4 frets. I was, too. So the way I defeated it was I ‘stretched’ the guitar. Below is a picture showing every Mode and scale in C major. To simply play in a different key, just slide the scale over to its appropriate notes:

Music Guitar Modes and Scales

Notice how all the notes and scales literally ‘bleed’ into each other. They connect and create an entire playing area over the instrument.

2.) How can I play certain keys of different modes like “C” Ionian or “D” Ionian?

Playing a mode in different keys is simply finding out the degree of the scale, and then finding out the root. So a C Phygian is in the key of Ab. Because Phygian is the 3rd mode, so the second would be Bb Dorian, which goes down to Ab Ionion.

So whatever key your in, take a minute and think of which modes might work. Here’s the notes on the guitar, referring to only the naturals. Notice there are no sharps and flats:

Applying Notes to Guitar Staff

So remember, when you go to break the mold, you are broadening your musical horizons. And when you know better you do better. Break from the easy way out of doing what you’ve always done. Apply these scales, modes, and more, and watch your playing, song writing, and general understanding blossom.

Hope this helps!

-Walt

Comments

  1. Tony Harris

    In modes, the tonic note changes but the group of notes you are working with does not. E.g. G major has one # and it is F; B Phrygian has one # and it’s F. The key signature on the music staff will be one f#, indicating the key of G major; however in B phrygian the tonic note is B. There is still only one # and it’s F.

  2. Tony Harris

    In modes, the tonic note changes but the group of notes you are working with does not. E.g. G major has one # and it is F; B Phrygian has one # and it’s F. The key signature on the music staff will be one f#, indicating the key of G major; however in B phrygian the tonic note is B. There is still only one # and it’s F.

  3. Anurag_dongre

    Hello Walt,

    A Melodic Minor is:
    A B C D E F# G# A the way up
    A G F E D C B A and the way down

    If we take out unique notes used in the scale we get ABCDE F# G# F G.
    Why cant this be written as :
    A B C D E F F# G G#
    G# G F# F E D C B A
    Why is there a need to omit F and G when writing the way UP. and omitting F# and G# the way down?

    My Second Question is:
    Why is there any need to write a scale up and down when the main aim behind “forming” a scale is to convey that “these specific notes ” are the notes used in the song. What do you achieve by writing it up and down.
    For ex: Is it not enough to say that C major consists of ACDBEGF instead of saying CDEFGABC and the way down BAGFEDC.
    Why is the sequence so important?
    If we just say someone that a c major scale is ABCDBEGF then he should be able to use those notes in songs.
    By arranging them and writing in sequence in a scale what do we achieve?
    coming back to question 1:
    1. why is the sequence in A minor melodic important?
    2. why is the sequence in A minor melodic Differnt (up and down)

    Finally, what matters is you are using OR NOT using the notes in the scale. If F F# G G# are to be used when a song is being played in A minor melodic then why difference in up and down?

    Thanks for the answer in advance walt

    Thanks & Regards,
    Andy

  4. Anurag_dongre

    Hello Walt,

    A Melodic Minor is:
    A B C D E F# G# A the way up
    A G F E D C B A and the way down

    If we take out unique notes used in the scale we get ABCDE F# G# F G.
    Why cant this be written as :
    A B C D E F F# G G#
    G# G F# F E D C B A
    Why is there a need to omit F and G when writing the way UP. and omitting F# and G# the way down?

    My Second Question is:
    Why is there any need to write a scale up and down when the main aim behind “forming” a scale is to convey that “these specific notes ” are the notes used in the song. What do you achieve by writing it up and down.
    For ex: Is it not enough to say that C major consists of ACDBEGF instead of saying CDEFGABC and the way down BAGFEDC.
    Why is the sequence so important?
    If we just say someone that a c major scale is ABCDBEGF then he should be able to use those notes in songs.
    By arranging them and writing in sequence in a scale what do we achieve?
    coming back to question 1:
    1. why is the sequence in A minor melodic important?
    2. why is the sequence in A minor melodic Differnt (up and down)

    Finally, what matters is you are using OR NOT using the notes in the scale. If F F# G G# are to be used when a song is being played in A minor melodic then why difference in up and down?

    Thanks for the answer in advance walt

    Thanks & Regards,
    Andy

  5. Anurag_dongre

    Hello Walt,

    A Melodic Minor is:
    A B C D E F# G# A the way up
    A G F E D C B A and the way down

    If we take out unique notes used in the scale we get ABCDE F# G# F G.
    Why cant this be written as :
    A B C D E F F# G G#
    G# G F# F E D C B A
    Why is there a need to omit F and G when writing the way UP. and omitting F# and G# the way down?

    My Second Question is:
    Why is there any need to write a scale up and down when the main aim behind “forming” a scale is to convey that “these specific notes ” are the notes used in the song. What do you achieve by writing it up and down.
    For ex: Is it not enough to say that C major consists of ACDBEGF instead of saying CDEFGABC and the way down BAGFEDC.
    Why is the sequence so important?
    If we just say someone that a c major scale is ABCDBEGF then he should be able to use those notes in songs.
    By arranging them and writing in sequence in a scale what do we achieve?
    coming back to question 1:
    1. why is the sequence in A minor melodic important?
    2. why is the sequence in A minor melodic Differnt (up and down)

    Finally, what matters is you are using OR NOT using the notes in the scale. If F F# G G# are to be used when a song is being played in A minor melodic then why difference in up and down?

    Thanks for the answer in advance walt

    Thanks & Regards,
    Andy

  6. 1.) I’m not sure. I never dealt with Melodic Minor too often for my compositional writing, studying, etc. Although you raise a good question – why not just combine al the unique notes and make one “ultimate” scale? I guess my answer would be “because the passing tones of F-F#-G imply a pentatonic scale. So you have to play them separately in order to keep the melodic sound, without changing the tonality of the scale.” Although I could be wayyyy off.

    2.) I’m not sure why the sequence is so important. To be honest, I never understood it’s purpose. Like, a guitar lick in C major going down could be CFGABCCEGC – it doesn’t HAVE to be a perfect descending scale. So I never understood why Melodic Minor had set descending/Ascending principles. Although I think it’s more in theory of “hitting the color notes depending on which direction the scale/solo is moving”, and so any permutation is fine. My two cents.

  7. 1.) I’m not sure. I never dealt with Melodic Minor too often for my compositional writing, studying, etc. Although you raise a good question – why not just combine al the unique notes and make one “ultimate” scale? I guess my answer would be “because the passing tones of F-F#-G imply a pentatonic scale. So you have to play them separately in order to keep the melodic sound, without changing the tonality of the scale.” Although I could be wayyyy off.

    2.) I’m not sure why the sequence is so important. To be honest, I never understood it’s purpose. Like, a guitar lick in C major going down could be CFGABCCEGC – it doesn’t HAVE to be a perfect descending scale. So I never understood why Melodic Minor had set descending/Ascending principles. Although I think it’s more in theory of “hitting the color notes depending on which direction the scale/solo is moving”, and so any permutation is fine. My two cents.

  8. 1.) I’m not sure. I never dealt with Melodic Minor too often for my compositional writing, studying, etc. Although you raise a good question – why not just combine al the unique notes and make one “ultimate” scale? I guess my answer would be “because the passing tones of F-F#-G imply a pentatonic scale. So you have to play them separately in order to keep the melodic sound, without changing the tonality of the scale.” Although I could be wayyyy off.

    2.) I’m not sure why the sequence is so important. To be honest, I never understood it’s purpose. Like, a guitar lick in C major going down could be CFGABCCEGC – it doesn’t HAVE to be a perfect descending scale. So I never understood why Melodic Minor had set descending/Ascending principles. Although I think it’s more in theory of “hitting the color notes depending on which direction the scale/solo is moving”, and so any permutation is fine. My two cents.

  9. Rui

    Link is broken :S could you fix it?

  10. Rui

    Link is broken :S could you fix it?

  11. Rui

    Link is broken :S could you fix it?

  12. i recently updated my site and had a few pics that slipped through the cracks. FIXED! Thanks Rui!

  13. i recently updated my site and had a few pics that slipped through the cracks. FIXED! Thanks Rui!

  14. i recently updated my site and had a few pics that slipped through the cracks. FIXED! Thanks Rui!

  15. Rui

    Thanks! And by the way, great job you are doing. It’s the first site i have seen with the best information and music theory, without paying! Really, a wonderful job! Keep it up!

  16. Rui

    Thanks! And by the way, great job you are doing. It’s the first site i have seen with the best information and music theory, without paying! Really, a wonderful job! Keep it up!

  17. Rui

    Thanks! And by the way, great job you are doing. It’s the first site i have seen with the best information and music theory, without paying! Really, a wonderful job! Keep it up!

  18. Zackary

    WALT THE PICTURE IS IN THE KEY OF G MAJOR NOT C AS YOU STATED IN THE TEXT 

  19. Zackary

    WALT THE PICTURE IS IN THE KEY OF G MAJOR NOT C AS YOU STATED IN THE TEXT 

  20. Zackary

    WALT THE PICTURE IS IN THE KEY OF G MAJOR NOT C AS YOU STATED IN THE TEXT 

  21. it’s a movable pattern. Where ‘G’ is the root, just move it up (or down) to C. In this case, it’s the 8th fret, instead of the 3rd fret

  22. referring to the Low E String

  23. it’s a movable pattern. Where ‘G’ is the root, just move it up (or down) to C. In this case, it’s the 8th fret, instead of the 3rd fret

  24. it’s a movable pattern. Where ‘G’ is the root, just move it up (or down) to C. In this case, it’s the 8th fret, instead of the 3rd fret

  25. referring to the Low E String

  26. referring to the Low E String

  27. the mode picture is vwry well done, life saver, everything in one paper, and a grat cheat while your soloing, thanks, good job!!

  28. rwh

    hey Walt,

    is your image wrong? you’ve written Lydian is the equal to Mixolydian. but i believe its Phrygian & Lydian.

  29. lydian and mixolydian are the same, except lydian starts on the 4th scale degree, whereas mixolydian starts on the 5th scale degree. look closely at the picture – although the two look similar, they’re actually two different patterns.

  30. Phrygian and Lydian patterns are identical. Lydian starts on the different degree of the scale.

  31. I´m confused Walt, where then is Lydian played on the neck, is it the same place as Phrygian? Can you add it to the diagram?

  32. In the Key of C, Lydian starts on F (Phrygian starts on E). So it’s almost the same form factor as Phrygian , but with a different tonal key center. I added Lydian above in the diagram – notice how close it is to Phrygian’s shape, except for the first note.

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